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Project Mercury


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Title: Project Mercury

Project Mercury
Mercury - Background
  • Project Mercury, born from America's first
    blueprints to put human crews in space, was also
    the genesis for some of the space hardware that
    would fly astronauts to the Moon
  • Mercury's 25 flights (6 manned) had just begun
    when the ambitious Apollo program was taking
  • President John Kennedy's pronouncement of the
    Apollo lunar program goals reflected NASA's
    earlier commitment to human exploration of space,
    and increased the importance of the hardware that
    was designed and flown under the Project Mercury

Mercury - Background
  • Project Mercury began as an advanced manned space
    flight program shared by the Department of
    Defense and the National Advisory Committee on
    Aeronautics (NACA)
  • Manned surveillance satellites were a tactical
    response to the threats of the Cold War with the
    Soviets and accelerated by the Space Race
  • Man-in-Space-Soonest was a USAF project that was
    converted into Project Mercury after the creation
    of NASA on October 1, 1958
  • The Space Task Group was empanelled soon after
    NASA was created to plan and develop Americas
    first manned space flight project - Mercury

Mercury - Background
  • The  three Mercury program objectives that were
    adopted when the program was accepted were
  • 1. To place a manned spacecraft in orbital flight
    around the Earth
  • 2. To investigate man's performance capabilities
    and his ability to function in the environment of
  • 3. To recover the man and the spacecraft safely

Mercury - Background
  • To help expedite the program and enhance the
    safety of the flight and operational crews,
    guidelines were detailed to attain the program
  • 1. Existing technology and off-the-shelf
    equipment should be used wherever practical 2.
    The simplest and most reliable approach to system
    design would be followed 3. An existing launch
    vehicle would be employed to place the spacecraft
    into orbit 4. A progressive and logical test
    program would be conducted

Mercury - Background
  • Cost was a concern throughout the life of the
    project which dictated that hardware already
    developed be used for the project whenever
    possible. To help reduce cost and accelerate the
    program development, the following program
    requirements were established
  • 1. The spacecraft must be fitted with a reliable
    launch-escape system to separate the spacecraft
    and its crew from the launch vehicle in case of
    impending failure
  • 2. The pilot must be given the capability of
    manually controlling spacecraft attitude
  • 3. The spacecraft must carry a retrorocket
    system capable of reliably providing the
    necessary impulse to bring the spacecraft out of
  • 4. A zero-lift body utilizing drag braking would
    be used for reentry
  • 5. The spacecraft design must satisfy the
    requirements for a water landing

Mercury Capsule
Mercury Capsule
  • Because of the extreme reentry heat, the Mercury
    capsule design would require effective heat
    rejection by reducing reentry energy through
    shock wave dispersion
  • This solution was provided by the broad, curved
    reentry shield
  • Both heat absorption and heat rejection methods
    were considered for heat shielding, although only
    the ablative heat rejection shield was
    implemented in the Mercury capsule

Mercury Capsule
  • Lower heating on suborbital trajectories allowed
    a simpler heat sink on the reentry shield of the
  • A beryllium heat sink would absorb much of the
    energy of reentry, which would then release the
    heat quickly at splashdown
  • This design was not used in the program because
    of the uncertainties of the feat flow
  • The ablation heat shield would be more difficult
    to design, but would be chosen for the suborbital
    and orbital Mercury flights

Mercury Capsule
  • Mercury's structure was made up of three titanium
    sections in a semimonocoque design (the skin
    provides part of the structural strength)
  • The three sections made up the primary structural
    assembly as follows
  • 1. Afterbody - the small cylindrical top that
    housed the reentry parachutes and recovery
    components, and, for later vehicles, allowed the
    astronaut emergency egress
  • 2. Midbody - the main conical structure
    consisted of a dual shell. The inner provided the
    primary structural strength, while the outer
    shell added to the structural integrity and
    thermal control with its beryllium and Rene
    (nickel alloy) thin shingles 3. Forebody - the
    reentry face that comprised three shells, the
    inner one a pressure bulkhead for the cabin, the
    second a heat shield support, and the outer the
    ablation shield composed of glass fiber and high
    temperature resin

Mercury Capsule
Mercury Capsule
Mercury Capsule
  • Mercury capsule specs
  • Construction Titanium shell with beryllium
    and nickel alloy outer layers
  • Height 11.5 ft (28 feet including the
    launch escape system tower)
  • Diameter 6.5 feet
  • Interior volume 60 ft3
  • Launch weight 4,300 lb (MA-6)
  • Orbit weight 3,000 lb (MA-6)

Mercury Capsule
  • Ensuring crew survival of a variety of expected
    launch accidents was looked at carefully, which
    led to the general conclusion that a launch abort
    system could offer a reliable method for crew
    escape and survival for most contingencies
  • From that assumption, the Mercury capsule escape
    system was created by one of America's premier
    but unheralded spacecraft engineers, Maxime Faget
  • His escape system proved to be simple, reliable,
    effective, and inexpensive enough so that its
    basic design was used for the Apollo Command
    Module, and is being integrated into NASA's new
    Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle

Mercury Capsule Escape Tower
Mercury Capsule
  • Electrical power
  • Electrical power for the Mercury capsule was
    supplied by primary and backup batteries since
    the missions were short duration. The
    battery-supplied main buses were maintained at 24
    Vdc and divided into two main groups. Those were
    the high priority circuits for critical
    operations, and low priority circuits for normal
  • Total primary and backup power was supplied by
    the following
  • Three main batteries      3,000 WHr (Watt-hours)
  • Two standby/backup batteries 3,000 WHr each
  • One isolated battery 1,500 WHr

Mercury Capsule
  • Electrical power
  • Alternating current was supplied to the AC loads
    by inverters feeding off of the DC battery buses
  • AC was generated to isolate the DC buses from the
    noise of the capsule fan motors and to supply the
    AC avionics/electronics in the Automatic
    Stabilization and Control System (ASCS)

Mercury Capsule
  • Communications
  • Communications functions for the Mercury capsule
  • UHF and HF for capsule audio communications
    between astronauts and ground controllers
  • Biotelemetry and spacecraft telemetry to ground
  • Command signals from ground control
  • Recovery signals from the capsule
  • Radar tracking from ground and/or recovery

Mercury Capsule
  • STDN ground stations for the Mercury orbital
    flights included
  • Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Grand Bahamas
  • Grand Turk
  • Bermuda
  • Grand Canary Island
  • Kano, Nigeria
  • Zanzibar
  • Muchea, Australia
  • Woomera, Australia
  • Canton Island
  • Kauai Island, Hawaii
  • Point Arguello, California
  • Guumas, Mexico
  • White Sands, New Mexico
  • Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Eglin, Florida

Mercury Capsule
  • Environmental Control System (ECS)
  • Many of the life support systems for the Mercury
    capsule were first-of-a-kind, although a number
    of components were derived from life support
    systems used in the hypersonic X-15 spacecraft
  • A duplicate life support system was designed for
    the Mercury capsule cabin and for the astronaut's
    space suit, with both offering low-pressure (5.5
    psi) pure oxygen, carbon dioxide removal, and
    thermal control
  • The separate ECS components provided a redundant
    environment for up to two days in orbit in case
    of a suit failure or malfunction

Environmental Control System
Mercury Capsule
  • Guidance, navigation and control
  • Mercury's guidance, navigation and control system
    was also called the Stabilization Control System
  • Automatic and manual components of the SCS
    operated outboard thrusters that were powered by
    hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) propellant
  • Thrust operation was commanded by ground control,
    or by an automated sequencing control from
    onboard computations, or by manual control inputs
    from the pilot-astronaut

Mercury Capsule
  • Capsule attitude control and navigation functions
    were used for all flight segments, from booster
    separation to reentry
  • The primary functional systems within the
    Stabilization Control System included the
  • Automatic Stabilization and Control System (ASCS)
  • Manual Rate Stabilization and Control System
  • Reaction Control System (RCS)

Mercury Capsule
  • Posigrade booster
  • After launch, the Mercury capsule would separate
    from the booster and capsule adapter, and enter
    programmed orbit using a solid-propellant
    posigrade rocket
  • The posigrade unit consisted of three small
    rocket motors, although only one of the rockets
    was needed for separation
  • Redundancy was also supplied in a dual-igniter
    assembly in each of the three motors

Mercury Capsule
  • Retrograde booster
  • The Mercury capsule's retrograde booster was a
    deorbit rocket package used to slow the capsule
    enough for the perigee to dip far enough into the
    atmosphere for sufficient atmospheric drag to
    initiate reentry
  • Mercury's three retrograde rockets were housed in
    the same container that housed the three
    posigrade motors
  • The entire booster package was held down with
    three metal straps anchored to the capsule bottom
    with explosive bolts
  • The booster unit was released sixty seconds from
    the retrograde burn and ejected from the capsule
    by coil springs

Mercury Retrofire Package
Little Joe
  • The Little Joe program was developed to
    investigate the Mercury capsule flight dynamics
    and aerodynamic characteristics at high speeds
    and high altitudes, and to check the launch
    escape system, and the capsule parachute and
    drogue parachute operations
  • Because of the booster's low cost and its
    utility, Little Joe missions were extended for
    evaluation of the physiological effects of
    suborbital flight on primates

Little Joe
  • Little Joe specs
  • Thrust 1,044 kN (235,000 lb)
  • Length 15.2 m
  • Diameter 2.03 m
  • Weight 12,700 kg (28,000 lb)
  • Fuel Solid (5 motor cluster)
  • Burn time 37 s
  • Launches 8
  • Failures 2

  • The origins of the Redstone missile began two
    years before "Operation Paperclip" in 1945/46
    which collected the German scientists and
    engineers working on the V-2 missile program
  • Quickly and quietly the U.S. Army shipped the
    personnel, including Wernher von Braun and the
    V-2s and documentation to the U.S

Redstone Missile
  • Length  69' 4"
  • Width  70"
  • Weight, empty 16,510 lb
  • Weight, loaded 61,345 lb
  • Payload 6,300 lb
  • Range 50-175 nm
  • Altitude 34-57 nm
  • Flight time 288-375 sec
  • Engine  Rocketdyne NAA 75-110 (S-3)
  • Fuel oxidizer Ethyl alcohol and liquid
    oxygen (LOX)
  • Engine thrust 78.000 lb
  • Turbopump propellant   Hydrogen peroxide
  • Guidance Inertial
  • Trajectory control Jet vanes and aerofin vanes
  • Velocity (Mach)
  • Cutoff 2.9-4.8
  • Reentry 3.0-5.5
  • Impact 1.2-2.3

Redstone Jupiter
  • Length                           
  • Redstone  83' including tower (6' structure
  • Jupiter  60'
  • Width                            
  • Redstone 70"
  • Jupiter 105"
  • Weight, loaded              
  • Redstone 66,000 lb
  • Jupiter 108,800 lb
  • Range
  • Redstone 175 nm
  • Jupiter 1,500 nm
  • Altitude
  • Redstone 57 nm
  • Jupiter 356 nm

Redstone Jupiter
  • Approximate burn time
  • Redstone 370 sec
  • Jupiter  390 sec
  • Total flight time
  • Jupiter  1,017 sec
  • Engine
  • Redstone NAA 75-110
  • Jupiter NAA 150-200  S-3D
  • Fuel oxidizer
  • Redstone Ethyl alcohol (and later Hydyne) and
  • Jupiter Kerosene and LOX
  • Engine thrust
  • Redstone 78,000-83,000 lb
  • Jupiter 150,000 lb

Redstone Jupiter C
  • Turbopump propellant
  • Redstone Hydrogen peroxide
  • Jupiter Main engine propellants
  • Guidance Inertial
  • Trajectory control 
  • Redstone  Jet vanes and aerofin vanes
  • Jupiter Hydraulic main engine articulation
  • Reentry capsule             
  • Redstone Mercury
  • Jupiter-C Ablation shield on base of conical
    structure (used for both warhead tests and early
    primate flights (Able Baker)

Redstone Engine
  • Redstone NAA 75-110 engine

Redstone Conversion
  • NASA requested eight Redstone missiles from the
    ABMA in preparation for alterations and
    improvements that would be needed to upgrade the
    Redstone to a man-rated launch vehicle
  • Major differences between the Redstone IRBM and
    the Mercury Redstone included systems
    simplification for increased reliability and
    decreased complexity
  • Other alterations included
  • Structure - Lengthened 6' to provide an
    additional 20 seconds of thrust, total weight
    increased to 66,000 lb

Redstone Conversion
  • Engine - Increased thrust to 78,000 lb, and
    hydrogen peroxide turbopump improvements
  • Instrumentation - Control sensing unit added to
    provide error signals and malfunctions, telemetry
    added to provide readings on attitude, vibration,
    acceleration, temperatures, pressures, thrust
    level, etc.
  • Flight control - A simpler, more reliable unit
    was incorporated to increase stability and reduce
  • Abort - Instrumentation and control components
    added in order to identify problems in thrust
    levels, engine vibration, electrical failure,

  • Convair (Consolidated Vultee Aircraft
    Corporation) was contracted to design the MX-1593
    version of the Air Force's earlier MX-774
    missile  concept
  • MX-774, also known as the RTV-A-2 was a
    supersonic ballistic missile project that was
    commissioned when the Army and Air Force were
  • In 1954, a contract was awarded Convair to
    develop, test and manufacture the Atlas missile
    for the Air Force
  • The Atlas project introduced unique new
    technologies, many used in later missile and
    launch vehicle design

  • Atlas technology innovations
  • Light-weight structure that employed a thin-wall
    stainless steel monocoque tank and body structure
    which was kept rigid by the internal tank
  • Gimbaled rocket engines for effective and
    efficient ascent guidance (originally patented by
    Robert Goddard)
  • Detachable payload/warhead section
  • Stage-and-a-half approach of jettisoning the
    booster engines during the ascent
  • Both booster engines and center/sustainer engine
    ignited at liftoff
  • Boosters jettisoned at engine cutoff
  • Onboard digital computer for advanced functional

  • Atlas D specifications
  • Diameter  10 ft    16 ft at base
  • Length  75 ft. 10 in (85 ft 6 in for ICBM
  • Weight 260,000 lb maximum at launch
  • Engines
  • 2 Rocketdyne LR105-NA strap-on boosters _at_ 154,000
    lb thrust
  • 1 Rocketdyne LR89-NA-3 sustainer _at_ 57,000 lb
  • 2 small vernier rockets for attitude correction _at_
    1,000 lb thrust
  • Engine thrust at launch    360,000 lb
  • Propellants
  • Fuel  RP-1 (kerosene)
  • Oxidizer  LOX
  • Consumption 1,500 lb/s

Missions - Unmanned
  • Little Joe
  • Mercury hardware test flights
  • Designation LJ-1 through LJ-5B
  • 8 flights total, 2 failures
  • First launch - August 21, 1959
  • Last launch - April 28, 1961

Missions - Unmanned
  • Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) Launched November 21,
    1960 - Accidental abort
  • Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2) Launched January 31,
    1961 was a successful qualification flight for
    the first manned Mercury-Redstone mission

Missions - Unmanned
  • Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) Launched April 25, 1961 -
    Single orbit flight of capsule 8 and the Atlas
    booster that was commanded to self-destruct 43
    seconds into the flight because of guidance
    errors. The escape system did operate properly
    and the capsule was recovered, refurbished, and
    reused on the subsequent MA-4 test flight.
  • Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) Launched September 13,
    1961 Reflight of failed MA-3
  • Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) Launched November 29,
    1961 - The three-orbit mission carried the
    chimpanzee Enos in the man-rating checkout for
    the first manned orbital mission, MA-6

Missions - Manned
  • Mercury-Redstone 3 - America's first astronaut in
    space was Alan Shepard
  • Launched May 5, 1961
  • Mercury capsule 10 named Freedom 7
  • Suborbital flight
  • 15 min 22 sec duration

Missions - Manned
  • Mercury-Redstone 4 - NASA's second and last
    suborbital manned mission
  • MR-4 flight launched on July 21, 1961 with Virgil
    (Gus) Grissom in Liberty Bell 7
  • Mission duration 15 min 37 sec

Missions - Manned
  • Mercury-Atlas 6 - America's first manned orbital
    flight with John Glenn at the controls
  • Launched February 20, 1962 on a 3 orbit mission
  • Flight duration 4 hr 55 min 23 sec
  • Used the larger Atlas booster since the velocity
    needed to reach orbit was 28,400 km/h (17,600
    mi/h) and the Redstone could supply only 8,300
    km/h (5,100 mi/h)

Missions - Manned
  • Mercury-Atlas 7 - America's second manned orbital
    mission, MA-7
  • Astronaut Scott Carpenter
  • Launched May 24, 1962, in the Aurora 7
  • Mission duration (3 orbits) 4 hr 56 min 5 sec

Missions - Manned
  • Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8) mission was designated
    Sigma 7
  • Launched October 3, 1962, with astronaut Wally
  • Six-orbit engineering test flight
  • Mission duration 9 hr 15 min 13 sec

Missions - Manned
  • Mercury-Atlas 9 was NASA's final Mercury mission
  • MA-9 was launched May 15, 1963 with astronaut
    Gordon Cooper in the Faith 7 spacecraft
  • 22 orbits with a flight duration of 1 day 10 hr
    19 min 49 sec

Mercury Summary
  • Four years from concept to completion
  • 25 flights
  • 6 manned
  • 2 suborbital
  • 4 orbital
  • 20 Mercury capsules constructed
  • Cost estimated at 1.6 billion in 2010 dollars